On display at the national headquarters of Ducks Unlimited in Memphis, Tennessee—a premier waterfowl conservation organization—are two vintage double-barrel, side-by-side shotguns with unusual nicknames: Bo Whoop and Bo Whoop II. The names were given to the guns by their original owner, Nash Buckingham, one of America’s most well-known outdoor writers of the 20th century. But the firearms are on display for a second reason, as well. You see, the history of the shotguns contains a mystery.
Theophilus Nash Buckingham—eventually to become known simply as “Mr. Buck”—was born on May 31, 1880, in Memphis, Tennessee, into a family of wealth and privilege. He attended the best schools, both Harvard University and the University of Tennessee, and after graduation began a career as a sportswriter for the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. But even though he knew sports well and was a gifted athlete—a four-sport star at the University of Tennessee—his heart and mind were always reliving the hunts he had experienced in the quail coverts and waterfowl marshes of his boyhood.
The South of the early 20th century was a bird hunting paradise. Quail was king, and the first decades of the 1900s were the heyday of wild quail in America. The southern states east of the Mississippi were full of bobwhites, and an estimated 25 million quail were shot by sport hunters annually.
In addition, waterfowl wintered in the marshes, swamps and lakes by the hundreds of thousands. Those were the days long before established bag limits, so hunters could legally shoot as many ducks, geese, swans and shorebirds as they could carry. Some duck hunting clubs, in the first feeble attempts at wildlife conservation, established limits for their members (but still allowed an astonishing 50 ducks per hunter per day)!
It was into this bird-hunting bounty that a young Nash Buckingham stepped under the tutelage and guidance of his father. Miles Sherman Buckingham could afford to hunt the best and most extensive plantations in search of quail and join the most exclusive duck clubs. It was a time when Southern gentlemen wore neckties beneath their shooting jackets, and were accompanied on their hunts by guides and dog handlers.
Those early field experiences eventually proved too tempting for young Nash. He gradually turned his talents from sports writing to outdoors writing, penning nine books and hundreds of magazine articles that regularly appeared in what was then known as the “Big Three” hunting and fishing magazines: Outdoor Life, Sports Afield and Field & Stream. Also during his career, because of his knowledge of bird dogs, he was frequently asked to judge the prestigious National Field Trials for pointers and setters taking place annually near Grand Junction, Tennessee.
A crack shot at both birds and clay targets, Nash Buckingham owned many shotguns during his lifetime, but none more special to him than Bo Whoop—a Burt Becker HE Grade 12-gauge Super Fox. Mr. Buck’s favorite waterfowl load for the heavy 10-lb. gun was 3” shells filled with copper-plated size #4 shot. With that shotgun and load combination, he was able to consistently make incredible shots.
“I watched him rake mallards out of the high air above the tallest timber, with a skill no other man has shown me in a lifetime of wandering for sport.” So said Captain Paul Curtis, the gun editor of Field & Stream from 1919 to 1934.
Disastrously, and through no fault of his own, Buckingham one day lost his beloved Bo Whoop. In his 1961 book titled, De Shootin’est Gent’man and Other Hunting Tales, Buckingham wrote of the incident.
“…I was to shoot that 12-bore Becker Magnum at practically every species of continental wildfowl and upland game—except quail and snipe. I shot steadily for twenty-one years until, in 1948, December 1, an examining game agent [game warden] just forgot to put it back where he found it in our automobile. He left it, lying ’twixt hood and fender; it was never recovered though engraved on both case and steel.”
In essence, following the contact by the wildlife officer, Mr. Buck had simply driven off not knowing that his beloved shotgun was riding precariously on the fender of his car. Eventually realizing the mistake, he quickly retraced his route but Bo Whoop was nowhere to be found. Understandably heartsick, he immediately placed ads in newspapers offering a reward for the return of his gun, but the phone never rang. Nash Buckingham died in 1971 without ever knowing the rest of the story.
Bo Whoop eventually resurfaced at a Georgia gun shop in 2006, nearly 60 years from the time it was lost. The shotgun had a broken stock by then, and the current owner related that his grandfather had purchased the gun sometime during the 1950s. Engraved on the top of Bo Whoop’s right barrel were the words “Made for Nash Buckingham” and on the top of the left barrel was “By Burt Becker Phila. PA.” By the way, the name Bo Whoop probably originated from the loud report of the big gun’s heavy loads.
The alert gunsmith suspected that he was holding a shotgun of significant historical value and informed its owner. After a lengthy verification process the owner decided to put the gun up for auction, and in 2010 Bo Whoop sold for $201,250. The buyer was Hal B. Howard, Jr., whose father had been a personal friend and hunting companion of Nash Buckingham’s. Howard, Jr. in turn, generously donated Bo Whoop to Ducks Unlimited’s national headquarters in Memphis, where the shotgun is proudly displayed today alongside Bo Whoop II, Nash’s replacement gun after his original was lost.
If you would like to learn more about Nash Buckingham, The Buckingham Trail is a seven-stop, self-driving tour in the Memphis area. Nearing the end of his life, Nash Buckingham wrote touchingly about himself and all hunters and shooters, “How kind it is that most of us will never know when we have fired our last shot.”